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Cities Need to be the Deciders on BRT Alternatives

Partisan Position

By Joyce Roy
Tuesday April 27, 2010 - 06:57:00 AM

On April 20 the Oakland City Council did indeed vote to support the full-build “Locally Preferred Alternative,” i.e., the alternative preferred by AC Transit. But it also directed that “Rapid Bus Plus” be studied as an alternative. The Public Works Committee had decided they wanted to “Study East Bay Bus Rapid Transit Project without the use of a dedicated traffic lane” and which would “Provide Level Boarding.” “Rapid Bus Plus,” unlike the no-build and the full-build alternatives, would split the line at downtown Oakland so you won’t get bunching like on the #51 line, and it, also, retains local service. So there is a lot to say for the “Rapid Bus Plus” but, unfortunately, you can’t get level boarding without bulb-outs (which would make it “Curbside BRT” or “Rapid Bus Plus Plus.”) The entry of the present Van Hool low-aisle buses is 14.56” above the street. (And the standard for American low-floor buses are “no more than 15 ½”.) Sidewalk curbs are about 6” so without bulb-outs one would have to do something really weird, and probably hazardous to pedestrians, in order to provide level boarding from sidewalks.  

For and against speakers at the Council meeting were about equal but the public comments in the Staff Report were 17 pro, 63 con and 20 commented on other issues. The approval was quite smooth because there is little public awareness of the issues. Unlike Berkeley, which has held public meetings for years, Oakland only had one month, in January, of public meetings and only one meeting in each neighborhood! If there is not the outcry in Oakland that there is in Berkeley, it may simply be that there is little public knowledge. 

AC Transit’s preferred alternative is the full-build one because it gives preference to buses and short shift to other vehicles and pedestrians and the quality of public spaces. The Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) Design Committee best spelled this out in comments, June 26, 2007, which is applicable to more than downtown Berkeley: 

“We believe that the required BRT infrastructure alternatives, as proposed in the draft DEIS/DEIR, are an imposition of transit engineering systems on Downtown Berkeley’s densely built environment, rather than a careful integration into and enhancement of that environment, with significant negative impacts that are not adequately mitigated. The alternatives and mitigations offered do not adequately demonstrate how the new infrastructure will improve the overall urban design or the pedestrian, retail, and cultural environment. Additional transit patrons, separate transit lanes, crosswalk mitigations, and new stations do not necessarily lead to overall improvements in the urban environment.”

To call this a “Complete Streets” proposal is akin to developers using the buzz word “Smart Growth” label for green-field developments.  

The DBA recommended that a “Side Running” alternative (a.k.a. Curbside BRT) be studied but AC Transit refused. So it is AC Transit that is the decider not the local cities.  

But then “no-build” may become the alternative. There may not be the expected Federal Small-Starts funding available because one requirement is that “ The agency is in reasonably good financial condition.” The agency plans to cut back service by another 7.5% in August and may put another parcel tax on the ballot. 

Too bad, because if AC Transit gave up dedicated lanes and middle-of-the-road platforms (neither of which are required for Small-Starts funding) there could be enough funding for “Curbside BRT”, or “Side-Running BRT” or “Rapid Bus Plus Plus” (or whatever you want to call it) on Telegraph St, International Blvd AND MacArthur and Foothill, both of which have high ridership. Info on Small-Starts can be found 




Joyce Roy is a transit activist and semi-retired architect. Partisan Position articles are those written by advocates or activists in the subject matter area. 


Editor's Note: The video of the Oakland City Council's vote can be seen here.  


The motion is by Nancy Nadel, starting at 3:39:25. It's evidently a recommendation to study both full-build and Rapid Bus Plus, on a fairly equal basis and to study some additional impacts and mitigations. 


Adopted around 4:01:00.